Tuesday, November 10, 2020


For this blog post, I have selected to address an issue that many of us seniors here in Malaysia and Singapore are familiar with - a reluctance to ask our doctors for more information even when we want to know more.

Perhaps it's to do with our Asian culture of keeping quiet especially when in the presence of someone with expert knowledge like doctors. We put doctors on a high pedestal. We pay homage to them. After all they have spent years poring over medical tomes and having to pass exams after exams. So who are we to ask for more information or question them? 

Doctors are busy people with little time to listen to us. Especially doctors in public hospitals and clinics. There is an endless queue of patients waiting outside each consultation room. Consider ourselves lucky if the doctor spends more than 10 minutes with us. They are often overworked and the least we want to do is add to their stress. 

It's different at private hospitals. The specialists will spend a bit more time but at a cost to us. So we try not to take up too much of the doctor's valuable time in case it adds to the charges later. Besides, we don't want to show our ignorance with our questions, or let on that we have some anxiety and doubts about the efficacy of the medication that was prescribed if it is a follow-up visit. 

Most times we don't quite understand their explanations or instructions. Doctors should be able to explain to a patient in layman's language. We tend to forget much of the details as soon as we leave the consultation room.  A common experience among patients, especially older ones.

And so we let pass the opportunity to ask questions while in the doctor's room, only to go home and berate ourselves for not asking what all these prescription drugs are for, if it's okay to take them together with traditional medicines, or what the side effects are, if any. We call up the clinic. We would be lucky if our call gets through. And if it does, chances are the nurse will inform us the doctor is with a patient and can't take our call. Or he is at surgery or on leave.

So the next time we see our doctor, we should bring up any questions that are troubling us. Best to write them down so we won't forget. Go prepared not only with questions but with whatever medical records, xrays or documents in case the doctor wants to refer to them, especially if you are seeing another doctor for a second opinion. How many times have we answered 'I'm not sure' or 'I don't remember' when the doctor asks us about our past medical history. Better communication between us and our doctor leads to better care for us. 

Here are the 10 questions we might want to ask our doctor. The list is by no means exhaustive. 

1. What is the cause of my illness?
2. What is the test for?
3. When will I get the results?
4. Why do I need this treatment?
5. What can happen if I don't take this treatment?
6. Are there any alternatives?
7. What are the possible complications?
8. Are there any side effects of the medication?
9. Will this medicine interact with medicines that I'm already taking?
10. Are cheaper options available?

If for some reason we need to look for a new doctor, we would do well to take a look at this website for the 17 questions to ask when choosing a new doctor.

Do watch this 7-minute video above that features patients and clinicians discussing the importance of asking questions and sharing information.